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Jaguar vs. Panther: 6 Key Differences Explained

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key point

  • Leopard is not a single species, but a term most commonly used to describe black jaguars or black panthers.
  • In leopards, melanism is the result of a recessive gene, while in jaguars it is caused by a dominant gene.
  • The jaguar has the strongest bite of all the felines – second only to tigers and lions.
Jaguars move at high speeds, reaching speeds of up to 80 mph.

©Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock.com

Panthers and jaguars are often confused, which is an easy mistake because the term "panther" is often used to describe several different species. In fact, panthers are not a single species, but a term most commonly used to describe black jaguars, or black panthers. So if you're confused about which is which, don't worry, as there are some key differences that can help differentiate them.

First, the most obvious difference is their coat color, which is the easiest way to tell the difference between a jaguar and a black panther. Also, one is more elusive than the other, preferring to stay in the shadows. But that's not all, because there's so much more to these fantastic animals than that. Join us as we discover all their differences.

black panther
Panthers are melanin, the pigment that makes them black.

©iStock.com/Aniket Manet

Comparing Panthers vs Jaguars

Panthers and jaguars are often mistaken for each other, as panthers are sometimes used to describe jaguars. In fact, the jaguar is Panthera onca , while the panther is either the melanized jaguar or the melanistic leopard (Panthera pardus) .

Melaninous animals are animals that have more melanin in their skin than other animals. Melanin is the pigment found in the skin and hair, and too much of it can cause an animal to turn black instead of its normal color. In leopards, melanism is the result of a recessive gene, while in jaguars it is caused by a dominant gene. Since the only difference between the melanized jaguar and the often spotted jaguar is color, in this article we will focus on the main differences between the melanized leopard (black panther) and the spotted jaguar.

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Check out the table below for some key differences.

Leopard jaguar
size Up to 130 lbs 23 to 28 inches at shoulder 120 to 210 lbs 25 to 30 inches at shoulder
Place Africa, Asia, India, China Central and South America
Habitat rainforest, forest, woodland, grassland Deciduous forests, rainforests, wetlands, grasslands
color Black, often with rosette markings visible on the fur (trait of jaguars and leopards) Pale yellow or tan, covered with black spots. Rosettes on both sides with a point in the center
figure Longer, muscular body with a more defined head Broad forehead, stout body and limbs
tail length 23 to 43 inches 18 to 30 inches
kill method bite into the throat or the back of the neck Bite to the head, crush the skull
life 12 to 17 years old 12 to 15 years old

6 Key Differences Between Jaguars and Panthers

panther waiting
Panthers prefer to hide in the shadows where they can hide

© iStock.com/slowmotiongli

Jaguar vs. Panther: Dimensions

The jaguar is the largest cat native to the Americas and the third largest in the world – after lions and tigers. They weigh between 120 and 210 pounds and typically stand between 25 and 30 inches at the shoulder. Black panthers are smaller than jaguars unless they are blue-eyed jaguars. They stand between 23 and 28 inches tall at the shoulder and can weigh up to 130 pounds.

Jaguar vs. Panther: Colors

The most obvious difference between jaguars and panthers is their different colors. The jaguar is yellowish or tan in color, with black rosette-shaped spots covering the sides of the body. These rosettes also have a distinct black spot in the center. Black panthers, on the other hand, have long been known for their sleek black fur, which has given them notoriety. Although panthers are black, leopard and jaguar rosette markings can still be seen on their black coats most of the time.

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A jaguar cub weighs about the size of a loaf of bread at birth.

© iStock.com/kwiktor

Jaguar vs. Panther: Body Types

As mentioned, jaguars are exceptionally large, and their size can be seen in their size. Jaguars have thick legs and a large, muscular body. They also have broad foreheads, which are very distinctive, and broad jaws. Panthers typically have elongated bodies and limbs, not so stocky. Their heads are also more defined and not as wide.

Jaguar vs Panther: Tail Length

The melanized leopard's tail is much longer than that of the jaguar, and their tail can be up to 43 inches long. In comparison, a jaguar's tail is only 30 inches long. This is because panthers often drag their prey up trees to protect them from other animals, so they use their long tails for balance while climbing. Although jaguars are also excellent climbers, they are at the top of the food chain and have few natural enemies. Therefore, they do not need to drag their prey up trees, nor do they need a long tail for balance.

Leopard cubs start hunting with their mothers when they are 6 weeks old.

© Eric Isselee/Shutterstock.com

Jaguars vs Panthers: Locations and Habitats

Panthers are found throughout Africa, Asia, India, and China, and love woodlands, forests, rainforests, and grasslands. Jaguars are found throughout Central and South America, living in deciduous forests, rainforests, wetlands and grasslands. However, if the panther were a melanized jaguar, it would be in the same location and habitat as the spotted jaguar. Regardless of the actual species, panthers prefer to stay in the shade and are rarely seen outdoors.

The jaguar is the third largest cat in the world

© Eric Kilby/Flickr

Jaguars vs Panthers: How to Kill Prey

The jaguar has one of the strongest bites of any cat – again second only to tigers and lions. They usually kill their prey with a devastating bite to the head, which crushes their skull. The jaguar's bite is so strong that it can even penetrate the shell of a turtle and crush the skull of a caiman.

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Panthers are smaller than jaguars (unless they are black jaguars), and panthers kill their prey by either biting the nape of the neck or biting the throat. They typically snap down the throats of larger prey and crush their windpipes, effectively suffocating them.


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For many years, I have been writing professionally, with an emphasis on animals and wildlife. I love spending time outdoors, and when I'm not writing I'll be found on a farm surrounded by horses, dogs, sheep and pigs.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are jaguars and leopards the same animal?

The answer is yes and no, because it depends on which species is black (black). Panthers are not a separate species, but a term commonly used to describe black panthers or black jaguars. So if it's a black panther then the answer is no, but if it's a black jaguar then the answer is yes!

Are panthers and jaguars in the same genus?

Yes, both panthers and jaguars belong to the genus Panthera . There are five members of the genus Panthera – lion, tiger, jaguar, leopard and snow leopard.

Are panthers more elusive than jaguars?

Yes, panthers are considered more elusive than jaguars for some reason. First, melanin only affects about 11 percent of leopard and jaguar populations, so there are far more jaguars than black panthers. Second, panthers tend to stay in shaded and heavily forested areas, making them harder to spot, not least because of their black fur. It is thought that panthers do this because their dark fur gives them an advantage when hunting at night or in darker areas.

Can only jaguars and leopards be panthers?

No, just to make it more confusing, there are some other animals that are also called panthers. Although only the melanized jaguars and leopards are known as panthers, pumas are sometimes called black panthers. Also, the cougar population that lives in Florida is known as the Florida panther.

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